As with Natural Environment Training (NET) and Discrete Trial Training (DTT), Verbal Behavior Therapy teaches communication using the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis and the theories of prominent Behaviorist B.F. Skinner. Verbal Behavior Therapy motivates a child by teaching that words can function to get the child something they want from the environment. The student learns that words can help obtain desired objects or other results.

Verbal Behavior is based on what we call verbal “operants” or behaviors that function for the child to gain something. Those operants include:

  • Mand, which is a request. For example, the child says “cookie,” to gain access to a cookie.
  • Tact, which is labeling or a comment used to share an experience or draw attention. An example is child says “grasshopper” to point out a grasshopper.
  • Intraverbal, which is a word/phrase used to answer a question or otherwise respond. An adult says “When do you wake up? “ and the child responds “In the morning.”
  • Echoic is a repeated, or echoed, word. For example, an adult would hold up an orange, say “orange” and the child would repeat “orange.” When the child learns to imitate words, we can them teach them to use those words independently.

A Verbal Behavior Therapy program will focus on getting a child to realize that language will get him what he wants, when he/she wants it. Requesting is often one of the first verbal skills taught; children are taught to use language to communicate, rather than just to label items. Learning how to make requests also should improve behavior. Verbal Behavior tends to be more natural than a Discrete Trial Training program, but may not be as effective for children who need high structure.